Red Pyramid Kane Chronicles Rick RiordanThe Kane Chronicles, Book 1

The author of the Percy Jackson books is back, and this time he’s moved from Greek mythology to the Egyptian variety.

Carter Kane is fourteen and lives out of a suitcase, traveling the world with his Egyptologist father. Traveling a bit more than seems strictly necessary, if its just for professional reasons: most Egyptologists don’t need to switch hotels in the middle of the night, for instance. Of course, most don’t get shot at, either. Sadie Kane is twelve and lives in London with their grandparents, jealous of Carter for getting to spend his life with the father she only sees twice a year. It’s on one of those biannual visits that they all go to the British Museum, at which their dad blows up the Rosetta Stone and gets kidnapped by a fiery supernatural being. An Egyptian god? Yup. This is, naturally, followed by adventures and the need to save North America, if not the entire world.

The narrative is presented as a transcript of an audio tape1 recorded alternately by Carter and Sadie, complete with interjections as the on-mic sib responds to the teasing of the one off-mic, and distracting chapter openers as the narrator switches. It’s an annoying gimmick and the framework detracts from the book; not only does it slow the chapter transitions, the explanatory “author’s note” delays the start of the story, and at the end, the book comes to a satisfying conclusion… and then adds a completely unnecessary extra-extra gimmicky chapter, just to explain the main gimmick. I will grant that the extra chapter does set the stage for the second book, but in a frustrating rather than a tantalizing way; the first book really has been tied up, and instead of letting you close the book with a satisfied sigh, it stops dead and then introduces the conceit behind the sequel without introducing the plot of the sequel.

Gimmickiness aside, the other issue with the narration is a lack of distinction between Carter’s voice and Sadie’s voice. They have distinct personalities and interests—and are both appealing, sympathetic kid characters—but I got more of a sense of each of them as individuals from watching their actions than from hearing their voices. The name of the current narrator is always on the top of the page, and I found myself needing to check more than once.

Nonetheless, it’s a very fun book. The Egyptian gods running around have plenty of limitation on their powers while still being fairly badass, and the plot moves quickly, cleverly, and at times hilariously through various confrontations with deities and magicians. The magicians are members of the House of Life, a millennia-old secret society. They are not particularly happy with the actions of the Kane family; their ancient policy is that the gods should stay locked up, all of them, and the Kanes keep messing with that. Fittingly, the organization has difficulty displaying adaptability in reaction to the Kanes; this is the nature of humanity and bureaucracy. We find ruts, make them oh-so-comfortable, and never get out of them.

Sadie and Carter are multiracial; unsurprisingly, they have plenty of Egyptian heritage if you trace it a couple millennia back, but it’s been mixed with much other heritage, so their dad presents as black and their long-dead mother was white. Carter takes after their dad, while Sadie looks more like their mom, though, obviously, she’s darker. It’s really nice to see such a mainstream book dealing with race, and it does so well, particularly in Carter and his dad’s awareness of public perception of them as African American men.

I don’t know as much Egyptian mythology as I know Greek, so this was breaking more new ground for me than the Percy Jackson books had; this was a fun exploration of a pantheon with which I am not very familiar. I particularly appreciated that he gave credit to the existence of multiple versions of myths, accepting them all rather than choosing one, but with an explanation that made sense. I also appreciated that he casually left room for this and the Percy Jackson books to take place in the same world, but didn’t stress it or threaten to blend the two series.

The Red Pyramid is a creative, fast-paced adventure that suffers from its narratorial gimmick, but it’s only a flesh wound.

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1Yes, audio tape. Not a recording saved on a thumb drive or SD card, an audio tape. What is this, the 90s?

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The Red Pyramid ~ Rick Riordan
My reviews of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (Book 1), The Sea of Monsters (Book 2), The Titan’s Curse (Book 3), Battle of the Labyrinth (Book 4), and The Last Olympian (Book 5)

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The Last Olympian is the fifth and final volume in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. My reviews of the first four books are here, here, here, and here. The bare-bones explanation: Percy Jackson is a half-blood, the son of a human mother and a Greek god. There’s a prophesy that when he turns sixteen, he will make a decision that will determine the fate of the world, whether the gods will continue to shepherd humanity or if the titans will destroy the gods and reclaim ultimate power over Earth.

We get almost nothing by way of exposition, and not much of the quest-type action that characterizes the earlier books; there’s a little bit of ominous preparation and then we’re dropped right into the climactic battle. For the most part this is just fine; the battle has its own plot arc, and its placements fits well into the overall plot arc of the series. The bit of questing that takes place at the beginning of The Last Olympian is important but feels a bit rushed, squeezed in on our way to demigods and titans duking it out around the Empire State Building.

Yep, the Empire State Building, entrance to Olympus and focal point of the novel. The first four books take some pretty awesome road trips around the United States, always coming back to New York. This one sticks close to home, with a clear love for Manhattan (and a casual disregard for the rest of the city; the Brooklynite in me bristled a few times.) It also sticks close to home emotionally; everyone Percy cares about is at risk. The details are solid and often surprising—the identity of the last Olympian, for instance, or the issues surrounding the Oracle—and the writing is likewise solid. There is less exploration of Greek mythology in this volume, but the world Riordan painstakingly crafted in the first four is rich and consistent. Basically, The Last Olympian is a well-crafted novel and a satisfying conclusion to an consistently excellent series.

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Rick Riordan
My reviews of The Lightning Thief (Book 1), The Sea of Monsters (Book 2), The Titan’s Curse (Book 3) and Battle of the Labyrinth (Book 4)

battle of the labyrinth percy jackson and the olympians book 4 rick riordanWriting reviews of middle books in a series is hard! There are so many early-book spoilers one wants to avoid, and one has already said many of the important things, and one doesn’t yet have perspective on the overall plotting and pacing. Humph.

Anyway, this is book four out of five of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (after The Lightening Thief, The Sea of Monsters, and The Titan’s Curse). It’s summer again, so Percy’s ready to head back to Camp Half-Blood where he plans to spend the summer working on his combat skills with other kids of mixed (half mortal, half Greek God) descent. And perhaps go on a quest and deal with the latest stage of the big, dangerous conflict started in the earlier books. He’s a bit thrown off by some changes—an alliance between formerly at-odds campers, a new combat teacher—and by some constants of teenage life—he’s not quite sure what to make of either young woman in his life, though they’re quite sure what to make of each other—but off he goes, into the Labyrinth. The one built by Daedalus that originally had a minotaur in the center, of course.

It continues to be good, solid modern mythology. Guilt and grieving are more prevalent in this volume than in the previous ones, and Percy and his friends are distinctly growing up and taking on more responsibility. Interestingly, while he successfully takes on extra responsibility and handles violence, danger, and the omnipresence of death, Percy still seems emotionally young in comparison to his female contemporaries and his two close non-human friends. He’s a fifteen-year-old boy, so this makes sense, but it still adds an interesting element to the book and makes Percy’s moments of emotionally maturity more meaningful.

And now I’ve just one more left to read.

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Battle of the Labyrinth ~ Rick Riordan
My reviews of The Lightening Thief (Book 1), The Sea of Monsters (Book 2), The Titan’s Curse (Book 3), and The Last Olympian (Book 5)

The Titan’s Curse follows The Lightning Thief and The Sea of Monsters in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. Once again, our hero—a half-blood, child of a Greek god and a mortal—must save a friend, do some traveling, meet some myths and monsters, and try to prevent the end of the world as we know it.

I’m getting more impressed with these as the series goes on. They’re still, at heart, fun modern fantasy, but the more I read the more I want to read. He introduces a steady progression of mythological characters in interesting, personality-rich ways. Percy and his friends are growing up, gradually but believably. (And, unlike some books I could mention, when a character loses several years, they deal with it. I was most pleased.) All in all, I’m enjoying these.

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The Titan’s Curse (Wikipedia) ~ The Titan’s Curse (Google Books) ~ Rick Riordan
My reviews of The Lightning Thief (Book 1), The Sea of Monsters (Book 2), Battle of the Labyrinth (Book 4), and The Last Olympian (Book 5)

The Sea of Monsters In this, the second book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (begun in The Lightning Thief), Percy has been doing better with some of the normal aspects of life—managing his ADHD and dyslexia, school, home life—but when summer comes, he realizes how much hell is breaking loose in the world of Greek gods and mythical creatures, the world to which he belongs as much—or more— as our normal one. Once again, Percy finds himself out and about, trying to save western civilization with his friends.

It’s another good adventure; it moves at a good clip, the myths are well-realized—accurate but updated in some clever ways—and has a few well-executed twists. All in all, an entertaining read.

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The Sea of Monsters ~ Rick Riordan
My reviews of The Lightning Thief (Book 1), The Titan’s Curse (Book 3), Battle of the Labyrinth (Book 4), and The Last Olympian (Book 5)

Percy Jackson is ADHD, dyslexic, and prone to getting into fights. Between these, he’s been kicked out of one school a year, till he ends up in sixth grade in a boarding school for troubled children. There, his Latin teacher tells him that learning his classical myths is a matter of life and death and his algebra teacher turns into some sort of bat-creature and attacks him (Luckily, aforementioned Latin teacher tosses him a sword in the nick of time.) Eventually, he winds up at Camp Half-Blood: a camp for kids who are the children of unions between the Greek gods and mortals.

There’s some figuring-out and some prophesy and some questing and some more figuring-out, and throughout there are loads of Greek myths. It’s quite a bit of fun,and, for lack of a better term, really catchy — it was stuck in my head for the two days I was reading it. It didn’t make me miss my stop on the subway, but there was this constant stream of Percy Jackson-related thoughts running through the back of my mind. I’m not sure if this says more about the book or about my mind, but I enjoyed it.

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Rick Riordan
My reviews of The Sea of Monsters (Book 2), The Titan’s Curse (Book 3), Battle of the Labyrinth (Book 4), and The Last Olympian (Book 5)